Taking the Empathetic Approach to Change

Chloe Hooper

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Maya Angelou

Now more than ever, change is knocking on the doorstep of leaders worldwide. 

For most, it isn’t a patient tap, it’s provocative hammering against the wood. When you answer the door, what mindset will you have? What separates you from a thriving leader to all the organisations left behind?

Empathetic leadership continues to anchor innovative, ever-changing organisations to success. Empathy is essential for effective teamwork, meaningful and productive output, organisational collaboration, and positive work environments.

To get down to it, the numbers don’t lie. Lack of empathy during times of change is costing you money. Not only that, but a lack of empathy is also risking your most valuable players. Studies say that 82%* of employees would leave their workplace for a more empathetic employer.

We’ve all heard the cliché that nobody likes change. You’d think that it isn’t as scary in a time of innovative change management as it once was. But, in truth, most people, at first, remain fearful of change. The one constant across industries is inevitably change. 

As leaders, maintaining, managing, and facilitating that change is an enormous responsibility.

What role does empathy play in this? Why is it so crucial for change?



You can’t ignore resistance to change, nor can you take the path of absolute dismissal, guns firing, believing that loud enough action will conquer any opposing concerns lingering behind. Instead, understanding why there is reluctance in the first place is critical. While others will be trying to tackle the signs of concern, your priority will be understanding the why. Only then will you empathise with reluctance to change, with genuine, purposeful intent.

CHANGE is not a single person task. For change to be implemented across an organisation, a leader must steer their team into unknown waters and help them feel calm with the new territory.

Leaders with an ability to exercise emotional intelligence are vital to maintaining change, their observation skills, meaning they can identify weaknesses and strengths. Enabling them to create a winning team with their players. When times of change do arrive, emotionally intelligent leaders have anticipated how and when to manage the emotions and transitions involved in the change.

Staying empathetic during times of change not only requires a high level of self-awareness and regulation, but it is also crucial to prioritise over communication.

Often, we talk ourselves out of empathetic practices and surrender to the barriers:

“I don’t have time.”

“I don’t know how.”

“Am I overstepping?”

“How much should I share?”

“Can I be vulnerable at my workplace?”


But if we are to thrive during times of change or make desired change stick, we must overcome these barriers and take an ‘empathy first’ approach to change. 

So, it is time to assess yourself – are you an empathetic leader? Ask yourself the following questions: 

Do you actively listen? 

Change frightens people, they need to be heard to feel assured. Active listening includes nonverbals (nods, smiling, tone) and verbal cues, “I am hearing you are fearful.”

Do you acknowledge the emotions of the team? 

Your team is made up of different experiences. Statements that allow for emotions “All emotions are welcome,” allow for an open conversation and dismiss stigma.

Do you keep away from judgement?

Keeping an open conversation requires mindfulness around jumping to judgement. As leaders, you must practice a non-judgement space. Approval or disapproval has no space within empathy.

Do you value silence in a conversation?  

As uncomfortable as it may seem, silence is essential for inner reflection. Do not mistake silence for wasted time, do not try to ‘break’ the silence prematurely. Silence allows individuals to feel heard and come to rich breakthroughs in the conversation organically.

Do you lead by example?

Giving clear instructions is helpful, but do you follow your advice? Do you work remotely when it benefits you, or exercise self-care?Research says that employees are conflicted by what is told and observed. Leaders dismiss fear by example.

Do you create a truthful environment?

Without trust, your team can’t make decisions, follow directions or achieve high work performance. To feel confident to be open and honest, you must first create this tone in the workplace. Communicate often, honestly, and squash rumours with facts, fast.

Do you acknowledge courage?

Vulnerability comes at a high emotional cost. Acknowledging your team on moments of courage will invite an open workplace.


*Businessolver State of Empathy in the Workplace


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